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May 2010

Phew, what a week it has been, what with the media launch and then International Year of Biodiversity Day on Saturday 22nd May, it feels like we haven’t left the museum in a week!


As part of our launch the Museum commissioned a MORI survey into just how much British citizens know about our native species.

Well, the results were not surprising. Here is what the headlines sa.:

Less than a quarter (24%) of UK adults are able to correctly identify the common UK sycamore tree, according to a survey on behalf of the Natural History Museum, which launches the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity today.


So we have some work to do in getting people interested in natural history – this is good – this is what we are here for! We all have a responsibility as part of society to respect and conserve our natural environments and all living creatures that this supports.


This is just what SH did in preparation for IYB day on Saturday. Armed with nothing more than a sweep net, a jam jar, and some insect repellent our intrepid entomologist headed off to the New Forest to see what he could find. He arrived on Saturday with all manner of beasts to show and tell as we opened our doors to celebrate International Year of biodiversity.


Anyone that came to IYB day would have met the irascible pair of very friendly Cockchafers (Melonontha melonontha) (who were determined to fly away) along with their cousins, the beautiful metallic green rose chafers (Cetonia aurata), one of the Clerid beetles, (Pyrochroa coccinea) which is bright red (the clue is in the name!), and a rogue spider, safely held in a sealed plastic cup, the woodlouse spider, (Dysdera crocata), which as the name suggests, eats woodlice, but is also partial to humans!



We had hundreds of people through the doors and there was lots to talk about, see and do. We were there, the Identification and Advisory service - of course - though we only received one butterfly for identification but did manage to tell anyone who stood still for long enough all about insects, spiders, bugs, whatever.


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Our earth sciences experts were on hand to show off some of our British fossil collections, along with some extant relatives, and did some explaining about how we know what the soft body parts of say, the ammonite was like - we got some complicated questions!


Our resident botanist proudly showed off a British herbarium specimen of the Ghost orchid  - see its heroic story here.


The OPAL team were also there and got lots of attention as they had very studiously been out pond dipping at the crack of dawn in our nature garden. We have a very healthy pond apparently, with good environmental indicators such as caddis fly larvae (who disguise themselves in a 'case' they make from bits of pond debris), tadpoles, leeches (eurgh!) flat worms, mayfly larvae, and it goes on...


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Go to the OPAL website to join and take part (you get a free pencil!)


One person that realy stood out (nice shirt!) was the UK naturalist Chris Packham who came in for a chat, which was nice!


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What the papers say...

Posted by Blaps May 21, 2010

Well, we have launched! We are now officially open and wait with anticipation as to what more is going to come thorugh our doors, drop through our letter box or be waiting in our inbox for identification - go on - surprise us!

Actually we a breathing a sigh of relief - we have been really busy this past few months getting ready for the launch, as we are a completely new department: (some) new staff, new ideas, new collections space and most importantly new resources to help us get you interested in natural history (if you weren't already!).


Our collections developers, Eleanor and Hannah, have been working in conjunction with our curatorial departments to bring together representative species from the UK collections of Zoology, Palaentology, Entomology and Botany (for Mineralogy - watch this space!) to be housed in the Angela Marmont Centre. These collections are really important to us as we can use them to compare your specimens with, both for identifcation and to help us describe your specimens better.


Often people drop in to the centre with something they have found whilst out and about, they might have even tripped over it - only yesterday we had a call from somone who had found a sea urchin fossil on the side of the road, which apparently had fallen out of a nearby wall - fascinating! It also happens to be that this person is a collector of marine fossils and has been unable to identify this one, so hopefully, by using our collections we should be able to make that identifcation.


Here are a few links to what the media have to say about us:


Culture 24 reports on all things cultural in museums and has some great things to say about the centre after coming to visit us onTuesday:


Our very own Stuart Hine did a stint with the Guardian's Environment Blog:


This week, the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity officially opens its doors to the nature loving world – if you are reading this then that should include you!

So who are we, what are we about, and what can we do for you?

The Identification and Advisory Service (IAS) is a team of five museum experts and natural historians all with a subject specialism - we cover palaeontology (that’s the fossils and rocks), mineralogy (minerals) , Entomology (the insects), botany (the plants), Zoology (that’s everything else!) - but the most important thing is, we all have a passion for natural history, we love it, we can’t get enough of it, in fact every day something amazing comes through our doors, found by you! This week alone we have identified a dormouse nest, an oil beetle, the jaw bone of a lizard found in an owl pellet, and a slime mould - nice!

The museum has for many years run an identification service – where else would you turn if you suddenly found a strange bug in your bedroom, dug up a dinosaur bone, found a plant you had never seen before, saw the most amazing creature on holiday, with no idea of how to identify it – well, you would come to the Museum wouldn’t you?

For the first time, the Museum’s UK collections and supporting expertise can be accessed in one place and in a number of ways:

You can email

You can call 020 7942 5045

You can drop in

Or you can join our online forums


The centre for UK biodiversity acts as a gateway to the UK collections, and the experts that care for them. We are available to speak first hand to you about your natural history interests. We can identify your finds, or if we are unable to identify your specimen we know a scientist who can! Also, we can help you find out more about your special natural history interests, such as assisting you in using our reference collections and library.

Already we have had some amazing experiences and seen some very special things. We never know what might come through our doors, although sometimes we can predict it! For instance, there are some likely culprits that turn up every year, how about the Harlequin ladybird, hibernating in our homes in large numbers, causing you to call in with questions from do ladybirds bite (yes they do!) to what effect are they having on our native ladybirds?



Or, the hornets, those seem to terrorise so many of us, but are in fact far more placid than the common wasp!

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Vespa crabro queen

Then there are the summer holidays, where you are out and about, maybe along the UK’s beautiful coastline, or even abroad, it’s amazing what gets washed up from the sea! For example, this was dredged up on the south coast:

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Jaw bone of Aurochs, primitive cattle, Holocene c. 12,000 yrs old

Even if you have an interest in natural history, but you are unsure where to start, give us a call or drop us an email and we can give you some pointers, for example, there are hundreds of UK natural history societies, forums and recording groups, all happy to share their expertise and welcome you to their group.

The IAS’s new online natural history forum is an excellent place to start if you have found something that interests you or are curious about.

Here are a few examples:

We get many of these when people are digging around in their gardens:

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Upper molar of domestic cattle, found in back garden


Or these, which form from lumps of mudstone and limestone that have dried out forming shrinkage cracks:  


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Septarian nodule or ‘turtle stone’ found in Wales.

This was submitted for identification as a fossilized turtle, and you can see why!

Finally, why are we here? This might sound like an existential question but it’s an important one. Now more than ever, there is a necessity to research, record and conserve the natural organisms with which we (humans) co-habit. We have all heard about biodiversity loss and species decline, as well as the success stories of species recovery. All of this must be underpinned by a robust knowledge of our natural environment and the organisms that live within it. The diversity of life is a wonderful thing, worth conserving, and respecting, and we can’t do that unless, at a basic level, we know what things are, what they do, where to find them.

That’s where you come in to the picture.

The future’s bright – the future’s natural history.